Blogging for Business
It seems like everyone you talk to these days either has a blog or wants to have a blog. If your business has a web site, you’ve probably heard how blogging can do wonders for web site traffic and lead generation—right? It’s true. In this article, I’ll show you how to write a killer blog and make it work for you to grow your business. I’ve learned a lot and had a lot of success in my three years and 400+ articles writing the Energy Vanguard blog, and I’ll tell you what you need to know to be successful with your blog.
For me, there are multiple answers to this question. I blog because I’m a teacher at heart, and millions of people are looking to learn about air leakage, ventless gas fireplaces, spray foam insulation, vapor barriers, and all the stuff we deal with as home energy pros. I blog because I’m passionate about building science and home performance. I blog because we have such a huge opportunity to improve existing homes and build better new homes.
Naturally, I also blog to get business. But I think my blog is successful largely because that’s a secondary reason. I believe that when you’re passionate and knowledgeable about your field and your interest is truly in helping people, your chances of success increase.
You may wonder, though, why your business should have a blog. The primary reason is so that potential customers will know you exist. Almost no one uses the yellow pages anymore because everything is online now. When they go to the Internet search engines, you want a shot at having those potential customers land on your web site. By using the advice in this article, you’ll improve your chances dramatically.
When you do it properly, having a blog also helps in other ways:
- It can add credibility and authority to your business.
- Your competitors have one. Or if your competitors don’t have one yet, you can beat them to it.
- A blog is a virtual salesperson that works 24/7.
- You’ll become much more knowledgeable at what you do as you research your topics.
Jeremy Begley of Cincinnati Energy Solutions thinks highly of blogging. “Beyond worthwhile,” he says, “I think it is essential.” And he goes on to explain, “The most important factor of a relevant web site is content, and the easiest way to keep the content fresh is by maintaining an active blog.”
The Energy Vanguard Story
I started blogging in March 2010. At that time, I’d had a web site for a year and a half, but I was getting almost no traffic. Almost immediately, traffic started going up. About a month in, I got my first comment. Toward the end of the fourth month, the Energy Vanguard blog had its first day with more than 100 unique visitors.
Figure 1 shows our 2010 traffic. As you can see, the number of unique visitors to our web site grew quickly, from fewer than 300 in March to nearly 8,000 in December. (The bump in traffic from July through October came from our one experiment with Google AdWords.)
Seeing the traffic go up like this made it easier to keep writing. I started off writing about 10 articles per month and quickly accelerated to as many as 16 per month. The traffic just kept growing, and so did the comments and inbound links and leads. Figure 2 shows how the number of unique visitors grew through the end of 2012, when traffic reached about 61,000 unique visitors in one month.
Traffic is just the first measure of your blog’s effectiveness, however. Once you get visitors to your site, you want to convert them to leads and then customers. That’s beyond the scope of this article, but Peter Troast’s “Using Web and Social Media in Your Business” (HE Nov/Dec ’11, p. 40) does a great job of covering that side of blogging.
Can Blogging Work for You?
I just showed you how successful blogging has been for us—but will it work for you? Nate Adams of Energy Smart Insulation in Mantua, Ohio, saw traffic on his company’s web site go from 100 unique visitors per month to 1,300 in the first five months after he began blogging. “My entry on how to insulate and ventilate knee walls is now drawing substantially more hits than my home page,” he says. He’s been at it for only half a year as of this writing and hasn’t yet seen a direct connection between the increased traffic and new business. “Since most of my customers cross-reference me on Angie's List,” he explains, “it's tough to assign credit to one or the other source. Regardless, the blog helps.”
A blogger I’ve known for a while, Sean Lintow Sr. of SLS Construction in Hanceville, Alabama, began in 2008 and has written more than 500 articles to date. Sean advises new bloggers to go into it knowing their purpose and their goals. He also recommends that before jumping in, they try writing a guest post for someone else’s blog. “Most people think coming up with an informative article is easy,” he says; but they soon find out “that their ‘I could knock that out in 15 minutes’ quickly stretches into hours.” From there, he suggests that new bloggers write their first ten articles and reassess to see if blogging is something they feel they can do and that they enjoy.
The short answer is that yes, blogging can work for you—as evidenced by several other professionals, like myself, who have charted the blogging waters before you. Let’s dive in now and I’ll show you how.
How to Write a Killer Blog
The main problems that new bloggers struggle with are (1) knowing how to come up with good ideas and turn them into good articles, (2) understanding the mechanics of blogging, and (3) overcoming obstacles. Here’s some advice to help you write that killer blog that makes your web site—and your business—pop.
Finding Ideas to Write About
This is the easy part. You’re in the perfect business for writing a blog, because the topics to write about are everywhere you look. I keep a list that’s always got a few dozen ideas ready to go. Here are a few easy ways to generate ideas:
Write About What You’re Doing — If you’re doing home performance assessments or contracting, that means you’re going into a lot of homes. When you leave one, don’t look at that job as a horror story about the dead possum or poisonous snake you saw in the crawl space. Look at it as blog fodder. When you see someone doing something stupid, like trying to dehumidify a vented crawl space or treat ice dams with heat strips, you’ve got another article. Proud of that crawl space that you just encapsulated? Get the photos and a description of how you did it into your blog.
Explain the Fundamentals — Have you ever explained how an attic knee wall should be treated or what a HERS index is? You do this with homeowners all the time, so put it into writing and let it help you get more business.
Answer the Questions You Get Asked — Even if you’re new in the business, people are going to ask you what insulation R-value they should have in their attic, or why their house gets so dusty. Don’t just answer their question. Write it down, and turn it into a blog post. This type of article packs a double whammy, because not only do you get an easy topic to write about, but you already know it’s something that people are looking to understand.
Exploit the Allure of Lists — Some of the easiest articles to write are the list articles: Five Myths About… Three Problems With… Nine Steps to… It’s easy to overdo this format; I’ve seen some bloggers who wrote only this type of article, and it gets stale. Throw one in every once in a while and it adds variety. Don’t be afraid to make a long list.
Write about Events, Research Papers, New Technology — Going to an industry conference? Just read a great paper or article about warm floors? Seeing a sexy new thermostat mentioned everywhere all of a sudden? That’s a lot of content waiting to be written about. Here’s a tip that I’ve learned from watching traffic on my blog: A general review of a conference won’t attract as much traffic as an article about the most interesting talk you attended or the juiciest scuttlebutt you heard.
How to Write a Good Blog Post
Coming up with ideas is one thing. Turning those ideas into articles that people want to read is another.
If you’re writing for homeowners, keep it at their level. If you’re a trainer looking for students, use the language you’d use in your classroom or field training. If you don’t know who your audience is, how will they know to read your blog?
Know Your Stuff — The more you know your subject matter, the more credibility you’ll have and the more your blog will take off. One thing you’ll discover when you start blogging, though, is that the things you thought you knew are a whole lot more complicated than you thought they were. You’ll need to do some research and make sure that what you’re saying is correct. I wouldn’t trust the simple versions of building science truths you got in your HERS Rater or BPI classes. What you learned there was just the tip of the iceberg. To help lend credibility to your words, throw in references and links to authoritative sources.
Keep It Short and Simple — A common problem with many bloggers is that they try to say too much in each article. It’s good to have some in-depth articles, but make sure that most of your articles aren’t too long; I aim for 500 to 800 words. Also, keep the main point clear in your mind so that it’s clear in the article. Don’t let your readers get to the end of an article wondering what you were actually writing about.
Master the Tiny Topic — Along the lines of keeping it simple, I like the idea of the tiny topic. For example, thermostat articles usually do well in our blog, but I’ll never write an article titled, “All About Thermostats.” I don’t have time to write it, and almost no one would make the time to read it. But I have written about why you shouldn’t leave your thermostat set to fan on, why you should ignore the HVAC tech who tells you to set your heat pump to emergency heat, and why thermostat setbacks save energy. If you start writing an article and have to keep adding more and more background information to make your main point clear, that means you need to break it up into more than one article.
Find the Juicy Topics — Pay attention to what people are talking about. Social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are great for this. What are people talking about there? Does your local utility have a new program? Are a lot of your customers asking about a particular program or product (Energy Star, net zero, Nest thermostat …)?
One rule here is to pay attention to the seasons and holidays. Write about air conditioning in summer and heating in winter. I always write a Halloween article and an April Fools’ Day article. I occasionally write about the solstices or Cyber Monday, too.
Catch Them with an Eye-Popping Title — This isn’t always easy, and I don’t force myself to be clever with every title, but think about connections for your title. Use expressions people are familiar with. “The Cable Guy Did It!—Attic Insulation Gone Awry.” Anthropomorphize your subject—give it human characteristics. “Helping an Asthmatic HVAC System to Breathe.”“ The Sludge That Kills.” “Postmortem of an Air Conditioner.” And the old adage that sex sells applies to blogging as well as to advertising. “Naked People Need Building Science.”
Find Your Voice — A home performance contractor once told me that he tried blogging but his articles all came out like sales pitches. The solution to that is to try and forget that you’re writing. In fact, Joe Romm, author of the Climate Progress blog, doesn’t write his articles at all. He speaks them and then turns them into text so they sound natural. With blogging, you want to engage your audience, so write to them as if they were in the room with you.
Also, don’t be afraid to show your passion and your personal side. Express outrage or respect. Be funny, if that comes naturally. Let your readers know there’s a thinking, feeling human being behind those words on their computer screen.
Use Good Photos — One of the reasons the Energy Vanguard blog has become so popular is that I use a lot of photos to illustrate what I’m talking about. It’s one thing to talk about an attic knee wall; it’s another to show photos of good and bad knee walls. If you don’t have the photo you need, get permission to use one you saw elsewhere or go to a site like flickr.com and search for photos you can use under a Creative Commons license. Never go anywhere without a good digital camera.
Promoting Conversation — You can get more mileage out of your articles by getting a good conversation going about them. With the fracturing of Internet media, that conversation may be happening in multiple places at once: the comments section of your blog, your company Facebook page, Twitter, LinkedIn updates and groups, and more. Sometimes the conversation will go wild without much input from you, but you can always help by responding to as many comments as you can.
The Nitty-Gritty — If you’ve decided you’re going to write a blog, and you think you’re all set because you’ve got a lot of ideas and photos and you know how to turn a phrase, you’re not there yet. Writing a blog entails more than just the act of creation.
Integrate the Blog into Your Web Site
If your goal is to use the blog for business, you need it to live on your web site’s domain name. Wordpress.com and some other sites make it easy to set up shop on their domain, but they get the search engine optimization (SEO) credit for all your hard work. You can use Energy Circle Pro, Wordpress.net (not the same as their .com tool), HubSpot.com, or any of a number of other platforms to integrate your blog into your web site. It may be more trouble and expense, but it’s much better to do it early. Moving a blog with hundreds of articles will not be fun.
Key Words — Using key words strategically is one of the most important secrets to our success. Before you begin your first article, sit down and write out a list of key words that you want to rank high on in the search engines. Start with the fundamentals: energy audit, insulation, blower door, duct leakage, and so on. Then add the long tail key words: energy audit Mantua Ohio, attic knee wall insulation and sheathing, and so on. Then use your key word list as a guide when you plan and write your articles. Decide on one main and a few supporting key words for each post. The main key word should be in all of the following places: title, text, image file name, image alt text, and metadescription. When you link internally to your own articles, try to use the key word in the linking text, too.
Here’s how it works. One of my articles is titled “Asthma and Poor Indoor Air Quality.” Indoor air quality is my main key word, so it’s easy to get it into the title and the text. The first image is named moisture-management-mold-from-plumbing-leak-indoor-air-quality-asthma.jpg. Notice that the words are separated by hyphens. Underscores don’t work, because search engines won’t see the words as being separate. That image also has the main key word in its alt text, and so does the metadescription.
This really works. Try it, and you’ll see quick results.
Images — Don’t get in trouble by using images you don’t have permission to use. Most of the ones I use are photos that I’ve taken. Some are photos that I’ve gotten permission to use, and others are from sites that provide images with a Creative Commons license, like flickr.com and Wikimedia (part of Wikipedia). Having a graphic designer at your disposal can be handy for those diagrams you need to show how radiant barriers work, for example. If you don’t have a graphic designer, get yourself a pen-based drawing tablet and make your own diagrams.
Overcoming Obstacles to Blogging
Among the bloggers I interviewed, a couple told me that their biggest challenges were writer’s block or coming up with topics “that aren't too technical, can be informative, and appeal to the right audience.” Most bloggers, however, say that their biggest challenges are time and consistency.
I’ve already discussed how easy it is to generate ideas to write about, so let’s look at writer’s block now. Writing is an interesting business. Sometimes the words flow easily; sometimes they don’t, even when you have what seems like a good topic. Often when I’m stuck, it’s because I haven’t clarified my thinking on the topic yet. Narrowing the focus helps with that. (Go back and read the part about mastering the tiny topic.) When I’ve picked a topic and am trying to write but just can’t make it work, I often abandon that topic and find something easier. My standard fallback method is to look through my photos and find something interesting—dirty filters, condensation on ducts, house wrap on knee walls. Then I’ll go back to the topic that stumped me another time and look at it with fresh eyes.
If the obstacles of time and consistency are keeping you down, here are my suggestions:
- Write short, simple articles.
- Have several of them ready to publish when you start your blog.
- Start writing a few articles and keep them in various states of completion in your draft article bin.
- Publish at least one article per month.
- Monitor your site’s traffic and leads. There’s nothing like seeing the effect of your blog on your web site and business to motivate you to keep on blogging.
Read the Energy Vanguard blog.
Go Forth and Blog
Blogging is a powerful tool to have in your marketing tool kit. It can have the same effect on your web site traffic as spending thousands of dollars per month on advertising. It’s likely to bring in better-quality leads, too. For the best results, add content regularly, promote the blog through social media, connect it to landing pages, and nurture your leads with e-mail marketing. Follow the advice in this article, and you may see your web site traffic, leads, and sales grow more than you ever thought possible.
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